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West Burra, Papil , St Laurence's Church

Architectural Fragment(S) (Period Unassigned), Church (Medieval), Composite Slab Shrine (Early Medieval), Cross Slab (Early Medieval), Monastery (Early Medieval)(Possible)

Site Name West Burra, Papil , St Laurence's Church

Classification Architectural Fragment(S) (Period Unassigned), Church (Medieval), Composite Slab Shrine (Early Medieval), Cross Slab (Early Medieval), Monastery (Early Medieval)(Possible)

Canmore ID 629

Site Number HU33SE 2

NGR HU 36882 31489

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Permalink http://canmore.org.uk/site/629

Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Shetland Islands
  • Parish Lerwick
  • Former Region Shetland Islands Area
  • Former District Shetland
  • Former County Shetland

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 1 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, Pictish cross-slab

Measurements: H 2.00m, W 0.50m, D 0.07m

Stone type: fine-grained red sandstone

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: National Museums Scotland, Edinburgh (IB.46)

Evidence for discovery: found in 1877 by Gilbert Goudie lying in the kirkyard at Papil, south of the church. It had been re-used ‘from time immemorial’ as a gravemarker for the family of John Inkster (1792-1884), the Baptist minister for West Burra. It was presented to NMAS in Edinburgh in the l890s.

Present condition: the rounded top of the slab is damaged, but otherwise the flaking on the lower part of the carved face occurred prior to its carving.

Description

This slender and slightly tapering slab would originally have been about 2.05m high. It is carved by incision and false relief on one broad face, and despite its re-use in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries nothing has been added or obliterated. Face A bears ornament carried out both in false relief and incision. Filling the upper part of the slab is a plain equal-armed cross-of-arcs with a central compass point. The cross is outlined and encircled by a double incised line, as is its shaft and rectangular base. The lentoid spaces between the arms contain interlace knots. The shaft is plain except for an interlace motif at the foot. The cross-base contains a double-outlined lion facing left, his tail curving up over his back and his upper leg joints depicted by spirals. He has a pricked ear, oval eye and tongue protruding from a well-defined snout.

On either side of the cross-shaft are two monks facing the cross, each dressed in a long hooded cloak and each carrying a hooked staff. The two outer monks have book satchels hanging by straps but the two next to the cross appear not to have had satchels. In each of the two triangular spaces between the pairs of monks and the cross-head above there is a triquetra knot.

Below the cross-base and standing free of any frame are two figures facing one another, with elongated bird’s beaks between which is a human head. The figures have human torsos and arms but bird’s legs with knobbly knees and bird’s feet. Each figure wears a short tunic and holds a long-handled axe resting on the shoulder.

Date: early ninth century.

References: Goudie 1881; ECMS pt 3, 10-15; Scott & Ritchie 2009, no 29; Fitzpatrick 2011.

Compiled by A Ritchie

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 11 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, shrine post

Measurements:H 0.34m, W 0.15m, D 0.15m

Stone type: sandstone

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: Shetland Museum, Lerwick (ARC 67127)

Evidence for discovery: found sometime after 1943 lying in the churchyard and later taken into the Shetland Museum by Tom Henderson, curator.

Present condition: battered and the top is broken.

Description

This slightly tapering post has chamfered edges and has two plain faces and two adjacent grooved faces.

Date: eighth or ninth century.

References: Thomas 1973, no 24; Scott & Ritchie 2009, no 42.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 16 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, shrine panel fragments

Measurements: H 0.44m, W0.35m, D 0.30m

Stone type: sandstone

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: Shetland Museum, Lerwick (ARC 7433)

Evidence for discovery: found lying in the graveyard in 1971 and taken to the museum.

Present condition: broken into two conjoining fragments.

Description

This fragment is part of the upper portion of a panel, probably from a shrine. The upper edge on face A is incised with a line 3cm below the top.

Date: eighth or ninth century.

References: Thomas 1973, no 36; Scott & Ritchie 2009, no 40 (mistakenly attributed to St Ninian’s Isle).

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 12 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, shrine post

Measurements: H 0.62m, W 0.18m, D 0.15m

Stone type: sandstone

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: Shetland Museum, Lerwick (ARC 67126)

Evidence for discovery: found sometime after 1943 lying in the churchyard and later taken into the Shetland Museum by Tom Henderson, curator.

Present condition: good.

Description

This water-worn post has one plain face and three grooved faces, 0.27m to 0.29m long.

Date: eighth or ninth century.

References: Thomas 1973, no 25; Scott & Ritchie 2009, no 43.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 13 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, shrine post fragment

Measurements: H 0.27m, W 0.15m, D 0.07m

Stone type: sandstone

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: Shetland Museum, Lerwick (ARC 6639)

Evidence for discovery:

Present condition: the lower edge is broken and there is some wear of the carved face.

Description

This fragment is the curved top of a slender post, and one broad face is incised with a double line round its edge, the outer line of which ends in spirals on either side.

Date: eighth or ninth century.

References: Thomas 1973, no 30; Scott & Ritchie 2009, no 41.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 14 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, cross-slab

Measurements: H 1.66m, W 0.40m

Stone type: sandstone

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: Shetland Museum, Lerwick (ARC 67128)

Evidence for discovery: found in the churchyard

Present condition: there is damage at the corners of the slab.

Description

Occupying the upper half of this long rectangular slab is an incised cross. The arms have expanded terminals and there is a double central circle. The lower part of the shaft is splayed and rests on a horizontal line which spans the slab, and a substantial tenon protrudes below the line.

Date: tenth century or later.

References: Thomas 1973, no 34; Scott & Ritchie 2009, no 57.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 15 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, shrine post

Measurements: H 0.53m, W 0.3m, D 0.09m

Stone type: sandstone

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: Shetland Museum, Lerwick (ARC 7432)

Evidence for discovery:

Present condition: good

Description

This post is rectangular in section and has two plain faces and two grooved faces, the grooves measuring 0.28m to 0.35m in length.

Date: eighth or ninth century.

References: Thomas 1973, no 35; Scott & Ritchie 2009, no 36.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 10 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, rune-inscribed fragment

Measurements: H 0.19m, W 0.17m, D 0.03m

Stone type: sandstone

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: Shetland Museum, Lerwick (ARC 65860)

Evidence for discovery: found in 1951 during digging a trench for a water pipe at a depth of about 0.50m, south-east of St Laurence’s graveyard.

Present condition: damaged.

Description

This fragment is incised along its narrow face with runes which are likely to be part of a memorial inscription.

Date: early medieval.

References: Thomas 1973, no 31; Barnes & Page 2006, SH 4, 132-4; Scott & Ritchie 2009, no 75.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2017

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 18, Shetland, shrine post

Measurements: H 0.51m, W 0.23m, D 0.18m

Stone type: sandstone

Place of discovery: HU 3685 2090

Present location: Shetland Museum, Lerwick (ARC 1996.218)

Evidence for discovery: found during grave-digging in St Laurence’s graveyard in 1996.

Present condition: good.

Description

This post has two plain vertical faces and two grooved vertical faces, the grooves being 0.23m to 0.25m long.

Date: eighth or ninth century.

References: Scott & Ritchie 2009, no 35 (mistakenly attributed to St Ninian’s Isle).

Compiled by A Ritchie 2017

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 2, Monks Stone (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, shrine panel

Measurements: H 0.53m-0.57m, W 1.10m, D 0.06m

Stone type: sandstone

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: Shetland Museum, Lerwick (ARC 6634)

Evidence for discovery: found buried upright during grave-digging in 1943 in St Laurence’s graveyard.

Present condition: some damage to the upper edge where the frame is missing, and some flaking, and the carving is a little worn.

Description

This rectangular panel has lateral tenons extending from just below the top (face E) to just above the point at which the carved area on face A finishes. There is a plain flatband border of varying widths around the top and sides of this decorative area, which is itself carved in low relief by means of pecking the background around the design. Filling the height of the frame at the left-hand end is a free-standing cross on a rectangular base, with slightly expanded arms and a ring of spirals at the centre of the cross-head, enclosing a central boss. Beside the cross-base and running along the foot of the carved area is a row of continuous double spirals, arranged in four and a half pairs. There is a single pellet at the upper junction of the first two pairs. On top of the row of spirals a procession of monks walks towards the cross, four on foot and one mounted on a pony. Each of the monks on foot is wearing a long hooded cloak and carries a hooked staff in his left hand. Their facial features are detailed, and the monk on the pony appears to be an old man with his cloak bunched around him leaving his visible leg free. Other details include the bridle on the pony, and certainly the last monk and his colleague third from the left are wearing book satchels over their cloaks.

Date: eighth or ninth century.

References: Moar & Stewart 1944, no 1; Thomas 1973, no 23: Stevenson 1981, 288-9; Scott & Ritchie 2009, no 30

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 3 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, shrine post

Measurements: H 0.63m, W 0.16m, D 0.14m

Stone type: sandstone

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: Shetland Museum, Lerwick (ARC 66358)

Evidence for discovery: found during grave-digging in 1943 in St Laurence’s graveyard.

Present condition: slightly battered on the top and sides.

Description

This post tapers towards the top and is rectangular in section, with one plain face and three grooved faces, the grooves being 0.25m to 0.43m in length.

Date: eighth or ninth century.

References: Thomas 1973, no 26; Scott & Ritchie 2009, no 39

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 4 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, shrine post

Measurements: H 0.63m, W 0.18m, D 0.12m

Stone type: sandstone

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: Shetland Museum, Lerwick (ARC 6635A)

Evidence for discovery: found during grave-digging in 1943 in St Laurence’s graveyard.

Present condition: good.

Description

This tapering water-worn boulder has a groove in one broad and one narrow face, 0.32, and 0.36m long. On the other broad face A there is an incised cross with expanded terminals, a dot above the upper arm and an S-shaped spiral on either side of the upper arm.

Date: eighth or ninth century.

References: Moar & Thomas 1944, no 3; Thomas 1973, no 27; Scott & Ritchie 2009, no 38.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 5 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, shrine panel fragment

Measurements: 0.36m by 0.36m, D 0.05m

Stone type:

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: lost

Evidence for discovery: found during grave-digging some years prior to 1943 in St Laurence’s graveyard, inserted into a groove in no 8 ‘in signpost fashion’. It was seen lying in the graveyard in 1943 but was lost by the 1950s.

Present condition:

Description

This was a square fragment on which ‘two corners have been chipped away, leaving a tenon of about 1 foot (0.31m) by one and a half inch (0.04m)’.

Date: eighth or ninth century.

References: Moar & Stewart 1944, 94; Thomas 1973, no 28.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 6 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, shrine panel fragment

Measurements:

Stone type:

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: lost

Evidence for discovery: found during grave-digging some years prior to 1943 in St Laurence’s graveyard, inserted into a groove in no 8 ‘in signpost fashion’.

Present condition:

Description

Date:

References: Moar & Stewart 1944, 94; Thomas 1973, 27.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 7 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, shrine panel fragment

Measurements:

Stone type:

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: lost

Evidence for discovery: found during grave-digging some years prior to 1943 in St Laurence’s graveyard, inserted into a groove in no 8 ‘in signpost fashion’.

Present condition:

Description

This was a small fragment of panel, apparently with one tenoned edge.

Date:

References: Moar & Stewart 1944, 94; Thomas 1973, 27.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 8 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, shrine post

Measurements:

Stone type:

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: lost

Evidence for discovery: found during grave-digging some years prior to 1943 in St Laurence’s graveyard, with a fragment of side-panel in each of its grooves ‘in signpost fashion’ (nos 5-7). At its foot was a skull.

Present condition:

Description

This was a plain post with three grooved sides.

Date:

References: Moar & Stewart 1944, 94; Thomas 1973, no 29.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Early Medieval Carved Stones Project

Papil 9 (St Laurence), West Burra, Shetland, cross-slab fragment

Measurements: H 0.44m, W 0.33m, D 0.06m

Stone type:

Place of discovery: HU 3688 3148

Present location: Shetland Museum, Lerwick (ARC 6636)

Evidence for discovery: found during grave-digging in 1943 in St Laurence’s graveyard.

Present condition: broken top and bottom.

Description

This fragment belongs to an upright grave-marker with a rounded top and an expansional cross incised on face A. The side-arms fill the width of the slab, but the upper arm lies below the top of the slab.

Date: ninth or tenth century.

References: Moar & Stewart 1944, no 2; Thomas 1973, no 32; Scott & Ritchie 2009, no 59.

Compiled by A Ritchie 2016

Archaeology Notes

HU33SE 2 36882 31489

(HU 3687 3150) Church On Site of St. Laurence's Church (LB)

OS 6" map, Shetland, 2nd ed. (1903).

See also HU33SE 1.

The Ordnance Survey Name Book (ONB) and RCAHMS state that the remains of the present church stand on the site of St. Laurence's Church.

Name Book 1878; RCAHMS 1946, visited 1930.

Sibbald describes the church in 1711 as having been built by a Norwegian lady whose sisters built Tingwall (HU44SW 12 - possible 12th century.) and Ireland (HU32SE3- ? 12th c.), and having a tower 5 or 6 storeys high, which, described as a'steeple' in 1654 and 1794 suggests that it might have been a round tower as at Egilsay (HY43SE 1 - 12th century.) A third building traditionally stood on the N side of St. Laurence's Church.

R Sibbald 1711.

Moar and Stewart, however, state that St. Lawrence's (sic) Church, which had been destroyed by 1809, was sited to the S and E of the new church, built from its stone in 1815, only traces of lime and mortar remaining.

P Moar and J Stewart 1944.

MacDonald, (of the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, 1968) on 29.8.67, found a late Viking potsherd in a bank about 3' high, extending 10' out from the modern graveyard wall, which it underlies. He suggests that more than one early church occupied the site in succession.

(Undated information in NMRS).

Generally as described. A stretch of about 5.0m. of old foundation walling is visible below the floor-boards of the now derelict modern church. Mr. J.D. Jamieson (Papil, West Burra) indicated where he found a shrine slab on the N side of the church at HU 3687 3140 in 1943. It is now in the Lerwick Museum along with the cross-slab illustrated by Proc Soc Antiq Scot.

Visited by OS (RL), 15 May 1968.

The Papil Stone, a probably 8th century (R B K Stevenson 1955) sculptured cross-slab, now in the NMAS, was discovered on the site in 1877, and parts of slab shrines and a fragment of interlaced cross were found in April 1943. Charles Thomas considers this to have been the site of the chief Dark Ages monastery of southern Zetland.

(Lecture by A C Thomas, 30 January 1969).

The Papil Stone is now in the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (NMAS): IB 46.

(Undated) information in NMRS.

HU 368 315. Altar corner post - rectangular sandstone block, two mortises. Dug up whilst gravedigging in 1996. Several other similar posts have previously been found here.

T Watt and I Tait 1996.

Activities

Field Visit (4 September 1930)

St. Laurence's Church, Papil. The site of St. Laurence's Church, in the churchyard at Papil, is occupied by a much later building, itself now rapidly falling into decay. No trace of the earlier structure survives, but a description of it, written about 1700 (1), suggests that it had a round tower like the church on Egilsay in Orkney (HY43SE 1).* Interest also attaches to the site on account of two fine sculptured monuments associated with it.

The first of these, known as the Papil Stone, is a rectangular slab of red sandstone, rounded at the head, measuring 5 ft. 10 in. high, 1 ft. 5 ½ in. wide at the bottom, expanding to 1 ft. 7 ½ in. at the top, and varying in thickness from 1 ½ to 2 ½ in. On one face it is sculptured with unique designs, partly in relief and partly incised. It is preserved in the National Museum, and has been described as follows (2):

"At the top is a cross having four equal arms with expanded ends enclosed within a circle, except at the bottom, where it is joined on to a short narrow shaft in the centre of the stone. The head of the cross is plain, but the four almond-shaped spaces between the arms are filled in with interlaced work, that in the spaces between the left and top arms and between the top and right arms consisting of a circular ring combined with a figure-of-eight ring having two pointed ends; and that in the spaces between the right and bottom arms and between the bottom and left arms consisting of a figure-of-eight ring having one pointed end and one round end, combined with a circular ring and an oval ring with a pointed end.

"The shaft of the cross is ornamented at the bottom by a continuous incised line forming two bends, like those of a figure-of-eight; and enclosing a pair of loops within each bend.

"At each side of the circular head of the cross below are spandrels enclosing triquetra knots, and on each side of the shaft are a pair of ecclesiastics with pointed hoods and crosiers, one of the pair on each side having a book satchel slung over the shoulder. Below this is a rectangular panel enclosing a beast with its tail curled over its back. At the bottom area pair of creatures with human bodies, arms and heads, but with the legs and beak of a bird, each holding an axe over the shoulder, one with the right hand and the other with the left, and pecking at a human head in the middle."

The second stone, which is a slab of the same material, is still at the church of Papil in West Burra. It is 5 ft. 4 ½ in. long by 1 ft. 3 ½ in. in greatest breadth, and bears an incised cross of simple form. The character of the cross will be best understood from the illustration (Fig. 577) (3).

RCAHMS 1946, visited 4 September 1930.

OS 6" map, Shetland, 2nd ed. (1903)

(1) Sibbald, Description, p. 26. "Here is a Church ... the steeple whereof, will be five or six stories high, though a little Church, yet very fashionable, and its Sanctum Sanctorum (or Quire) yet remains." Sibbald's informant was the Rev. Hugh Leigh, minister of Bressay, Burray and Quarff from 1672-1719. (2) E.C.M., pt. iii, pp. 10-15. (3) See also P.S.A.S., xv (1880-1), p. 204.

OS 6" map, Shetland, 2nd ed. (1903) (unnoted)

*Cf. RCAHMS 1946, i, p.44 footnote

References

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